Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Tia Series - the other side or the blind side?

“Hum mm hum mm” hummed Tia, standing next to the window, glancing outside.

The window reached up to the floor, it had steel bars and the panes were folded to one side to let the fresh air in. The panes at the bottom of the window were replaced with a wooden panel which also folded to a side, useful especially in the warm summer afternoons when load shedding (power cut) would happen. Tia loved looking up at the stained glass pattern crowning the window- the red, blue, green colors each told their own story, a story of a free spirit, of variety and of constant excitement. The sun streaming in through the stained glass would make a beautiful pattern on the bed and the pattern would constantly change as the day progressed.

“Was her life like the colorful pattern?”, she wondered.

Could she think of a life outside the pakmara lane, a life full of variety, excitement and with no one telling her what to do. She smiled as she thought glancing at the scroll of paper lying before her which had the following words scribbled on it:

“ shaboi jethai hoj boj

Shekhane keno amar khoj

Amae je achi shobar majhe

Shob kichurir shokol kaje”


“Where everyone is only a mess

Why are you looking for me there

I am in the middle of every one

Everything and all the work”

The wind hustled through the window and almost rhythmically swayed her curls. It was a cooling sensation as the wet hair felt drier with the breeze. The wind was such a respite in the infamous hot and humid weather of Kolkata. Tia took out the wooden stick holding her hair in a bun and gently let her hair loose. She looked like maa durga in her bordered saree, a round sindoor bindi and her dark curly hair reaching up to her waist.

It was a mundane Monday. Tia yawned and thought to herself that all the chores of the house were done. Her husband was in office and Maa had gone to her village (a couple of hours from Kolkata) and would be gone for a week. She smiled at the thought of having the entire house to herself. She had planned to finish writing the poem she had started yesterday.

The sound of shrieking horn rudely woke her. She rushed back to the window only to see a large truck pulling up the lane. It was full of things- furniture, trunks, plants and cartons.

“Someone seems to be shifting” she thought to herself.

Almost instantly, the truck stopped in front of her house and the driver got down. He inquired about a house number to which the guard pointed out to a house across hers.

“Oh! Someone must be moving to the first floor of the house across. It had been empty for some time now. Hope it is a friendly family with kids so that there is some life in the lane.”, Tia thought

Tia strained her neck to see who her new neighbors were. She could see no one. A flashy red car zoomed in, Tia was surprised, there were only few cars in the lane. One of them was an old white premier padmini, which was owned by her father in law and was never used after his death. It now had rusted and lay in the corner of the courtyard. It could be sold as an antique and fetch good money, she thought. The other cars owned by the ghosh family next door was an ambassador and the latest entrant owned by a non Bengali family was a white car called some marutheeee. She had never seen such a color of a car in the pakmara lane. The flashy car came to a halt (maybe a maruthee again). The door opened and someone stepped out.

Tia’s jaw dropped at the sight. She was expecting a respectable middle aged man but to her surprise … she saw a girl or maybe a woman and lo behold- heels, tight pants (jeans pants!!!), tucked in orange shirt and mighty big sun goggles (shades).

“Oh ma, eyei ki”.. (oh ma, what is this?), she said aloud.

The fancy girl, opened her goggles and looked up at the house across and then towards her house. Tia had no time to run and she stood fixed. This girl smiled at her. Tia quickly moved away from the window and sat on her bed.

“She must be with her parents. But where is the rest of the family”, she thought

Curiosity took the better of her as slowly moved back to the window. The belongings were being moved up to the first floor. Tia saw a wrought iron bed, a very fancy dressing table and a lot of plants being taken up the stairs. The balcony door on the first floor across her house opened and there she was. Fancy girl was back and this time right across from Tia. This time Tia ducked down before she could see her. Soon after, Tia shut the window and opened the wooden panel below the window. She lay down on the bed and replayed the event she witnessed in her head.

Someone was banging the door wearing an orange tee shirt and waving the goggles at her. She woke up startled with the dream.

It was almost 4’o clock and Tia opened the door to see Bhola with her evening tea. Tia took the cup of tea and placed it on the bed side table, as she stretched her arms and looked around. She must have dozed off as soon as she lay down. She sat up and tied her hair in a knot.

Tia’s curiosity took the better of her and she got up and slowly opened the window. She found herself face to face with the girl. Tia felt as if her feet were glued to the ground and though she tried to move she could not and she continued to stare wide eyed at the girl. The girl was leaning forward from the balcony, wearing a long bright red skirt and a sleeveless short top. Even before Tia could digest such a sight, the girl’s face caught her attention and she saw her blowing smoke from her mouth while holding a cigarette with her hand. Tia was shocked beyond words and just stood as if she had frozen.

Almost at the same instant, the girl looked up, gave Tia a broad smile and waved to her. Tia stared blankly and after about an instant managed to smile back. Immediately after that, Tia closed her window and sat on her bed. After a while she started to write about today, the events, about the girl. She wondered where her family was and why she wasn’t married still.

“How could she smoke like that openly?” she thought to herself.

The rest of the evening was usual. Tia supervised the preparation of dinner and sat dutifully with her husband as he ate.

The next day, around 11 am after the morning chores were done, Tia opened the window again and saw that the potted plants were neatly lined up in the balcony, bright yellow curtains hung and all the empty cartons were neatly piled up in a corner. Just as she was witnessing all that, the girl came out with a bundle of empty cartons and dumped it on the pile. Wiping her forehead she looked up and gave a broad smile. Tia was about to turn around when she heard her saying

“Hello… Kemon acho? Aama kalke shift korechi” (Hi, how are you? I have just shifted here yesterday)

Tia managed a smile and nodded.

The girl continued speaking

“Come over for a cup of tea!”, she said.

Tia shook her head a couple of times but the girl insisted and spoke loudly. Tia looked around wondering if the whole lane could hear the conversation.

Unable to stop the girl from yelling, she nodded and agreed to go over.

Turning around and looking at herself in the mirror, she fixed her crisp cotton sari, re-tied her hair in a bun and adjusted her bindi. It was a feeling of uneasiness as Tia rang the bell of the house opposite. It felt like she was doing something which was forbidden.

The door opened and the girl smiled at Tia brightly.

“esho esho” she said (come, come)

The drawing room looked nice and spacious. Big bright cushions were kept on the floor, a low diwan bed filled a corner, few potted plants, bright water color paintings and a floor rug made the room feel unreal. Tia sat on the diwan and consciously fixed her sari.

The girl sat across and said in a string of Bengali,

“Good to see you, I saw you yesterday when I was shifting. I am Meena. I don’t know anyone in this locality so I am glad we could meet up. I have just shifted from Delhi and I am glad I found this place to live in. I am a journalist you see.”

Tia smiled and nodded.

“ Good to see you all settled in. You have done it up really well. Where is your family?”

Meena just said that she lived alone and rose to show Tia her house.

It was three hours hence and Tia suddenly realized the time when she saw that it was almost 2:45 pm. “Time just flew”, thought Tia, as she walked back to her house. It felt so good talking to Meena. She had spoken about her work, her life, she seemed so free and full of life. Tia did most of the hearing and spoke about the locality, where she could go buy vegetables and fish. Tia also mentioned that she lived with her family and was married for about a year now.

A lot of things stuck to Tia’s mind today, the colorful drawing room, the yellow curtains which flew with the breeze mirrored Meena and her life which to Tia, seemed wonderful and fiercely independent. Initially she was appalled to see her living alone and being so outrageous but as Meena spoke, Tia felt that she was a warm person and even though she was so independent, she never once looked down upon Tia’s life. In fact she was curious and inquired about recipes and her life. They laughed together and rather loudly. After a very long time, Tia laughed so much, it felt like going home when one was carefree with no worries. It was a while since Tia felt this alive.

The evening came and Tia hustled around the kitchen organizing dinner yet wondering what Meena would be doing or eating. At dinner, Tia served her husband obediently and rudely awoke with her husband screaming

“This has too much of salt and this is not cooked. What is wrong with you? Where are you lost?”

Tia stared blankly and realized what was happening. She wanted to tell her husband about Meena but something stopped her. It was her secret and something told her that her husband would never understand how someone like Tia could meet someone like Meena. She somehow salvaged the dinner by giving some other cooked vegetables instead of the ones served.

She could not wait for the next day to see Meena and maybe meet her again. Never had she thought that in her mundane life, something as exciting as this would happen, she would meet someone so very different and yet enjoy being friends. Maybe she can show Meena how to cook something as she remembered Meena saying that she can hardly cook. She could barely sleep with the excitement of the next day. The Grihini was no longer simply content cooking and taking care of the household. The yellow curtains blew with the wind and the red, blue and green colors of the stained glass sparkled when the sun shone through it, in Tia’s dreams. It was just a coincidence, Tia thought. They could mean nothing.

To be continued in part 3 of the Tia Series....

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